One thing that struck me while watching Incendiary that I completely forgot about until my wife reminded me by observing Michelle Williams' performance. Williams had gotten her break on the popular show Dawson's Creek several years ago, but at the time she seemed to be destined for modest success doing the occasional indie film. Kids like Joshua Jackson and Katie Holmes seemed to have been shortlisted for some really meaty roles and choice acting jobs. But for whatever reason, they seemed to have dropped off (or in Holmes' case, practically disappeared) from the entertainment radar. Meanwhile Williams has an Oscar nomination under her belt for Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain and has worked with Todd Haynes (I'm Not There), Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York) and is completing work on the next Martin Scorsese film. Not too bad for being the underdog from Dawson's Creek.
Incendiary is the latest independent vehicle for Williams. The film was adapted from the Chris Cleave novel and directed by Sharon Maguire, in her first work since 2001's Bridget Jones's Diary. Williams is married to a man who works in the bomb disposal department for the London police department, and they have a four year old son who is the love of her life. She has a flirtatious relationship with a reporter named Jasper (Ewan McGregor, Big Fish), and the two eventually make passionate love while her husband and son are away at a soccer match. Tragically though, the soccer match is a target of a terrorist attack and her husband and son are killed, and she's left to pick up the pieces. She takes up a friendship with the head of the anti-terrorist unit (Matthew Macfadyen, Frost/Nixon), not to mention starts following, then interacting with the son of one of the suicide bombers responsible for the attack. She even writes a letter to Osama bin Laden, as part of the grieving process. The movie's main focus is on her and her grief, more than anything else.
It's for that reason, looking at it as a vehicle of sorts for Williams' acting ability, which is a reason for watching it. My wife started out not watching the film early on, but by the third act, she was interested in seeing what would become of Williams' character. Late in the film as she's suffering through visions of seeing her son alive, she's heartbroken to find out the truth from the wife of one of the bombers, in an unexpected yet emotionally powerful scene. But in terms of some of her character's other actions in the film (she's unnamed, other than being called "Young Mother" in the credits), they seem a little bit far-fetched, bordering on ludicrous. The rationale for becoming friends, later lovers, with Macfadyen, is nonexistent, leading me to wonder what kind of person would hop into bed, or at least a caravan, with someone so soon after such a tragic incident.
Maguire wrote the screenplay from the Cleave novel, and without having read the Cleave novel, I'm going to say she probably tried to incorporate parts of it into the film, but did so in such a way that they felt forced in and without purpose. An entire subplot with Jasper doing research on the bombings (not to mention taking out a bomber's son with sniper rifles) was the portion I'm referring to. Quite honestly, Maguire could have made a much more effecting film without having to shoehorn in a "Syriana meets 9/11" story which as it turns out doesn't drive the film and barely influences the characters in it. That reason alone made Jasper's role in the film (and more importantly McGregor's involvement with it) wasted and unnecessary.
Getting back to Williams' performance in the film, it's certainly with merit because of how raw she makes the journey out to be. She could have been another American who was trying to pull off a stupid Brit accent and wind up being perceived as sappy and hammy, but she handles the accent well. This is in part because the simple fact is she's doing everyday stuff and draws you into her life that, often times, I forgot she was doing the accent. She's quietly putting together an impressive body of work, and it wouldn't surprise me if she won an Oscar in the next few years.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Incendiary arrives to Blu-ray in 1080p high definition, displayed in 2.40:1 widescreen with the AVC MPEG-4 codec. Maguire keeps the production values modest, which you can see particularly when they cut to CG and matte effects for the destroyed Emirates Stadium in London. With cinematographer Ben Davis (Layer Cake), the film's color palette is devoid of any real color, and this look is reproduced accurately on Blu-ray. Fine details on characters' faces look solid, and blacks are deep throughout most of the feature and provide a nice contrast. I felt things were lacking in background detail a little, but overall the film looks solid.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless sound option doesn't do much of note. In fact, most of what occurs is limited to the center channel and the dialogue-driven nature of the film. The disappointing thing is that there could have been more environmental sounds in the front channels to make things a little more immersive. When Williams is in the hospital and is being talked to, it sounds as if there's no action whatsoever in the front channels save for the dialogue in the center. And this is symptomatic of the soundtrack, with little real involvement. However the bombing itself does provide moments of subwoofer and directional effect activity, so all is not completely lost.
Surprisingly, not all that much. Some stills galleries and the film's trailer in standard definition are all that's here.
With Incendiary, Michelle Williams proves she's got some talent past her previous television work and notoriety for having a child with the late Heath Ledger. She continues to surprise and her performance here is worth checking out. Sadly, some of the things her character is made to do are baffling, and the story gets in the way of being a good film. Technically it's nothing special and supplementally it's less than that, so check it out for her more than anything else.